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It’s Time to Grow Again…and Innovation is the Way (Part 1)

June 8, 2011
Is it over yet? I don’t know about you, but I am tired of the talking and of hearing about the Great Recession.  And I think most employees are, too.  With all of the downsizing, cost cutting, doing more with less, resource limitations, and constant change, employees are wondering if their contributions really count or make a difference.  Generally, they don’t feel as engaged or committed to organizational success as in the past.  This is troubling for leaders because they know that future organizational success depends on getting employees to re-engage and re-commit in the post Great Recession era.  But how to get that engagement and commitment back is something that organizations are struggling with.

In my opinion, the way to get re-engagement and re-commitment is to start shifting the focus back to growth—to create excitement again so that employees feel they can make a difference.  Just think about the difference in your environment when employees are helping the organization grow rather than cutting in order to survive.  But growth isn’t easy in any environment, especially this one.  And, it is in this type of environment that growth opportunities present themselves, but they can be missed easily because organizations are not as focused on growth now.  

Based on the research, there is only one demonstrated way that organizations are going to get the type of growth necessary to recover and thrive in the future—and that is to innovate.  Focusing on innovation can be an effective way to re-engage employees to commit to delivering results and driving the changes necessary for success. 

Organizations talk all the time about the need to innovate—that isn’t new.  I mean, really, who doesn’t want to be more innovative?   But, how do you get everyone to focus on innovation as an important part of their daily work?  How do you make it easy for people to be more innovative?  What innovation process can you use to take advantages of opportunities and solve problems more effectively? 

What Is Innovation? 

Simply put, innovation is something different that has impact.  Often, the goal of innovation is to solve a problem or satisfy an unmet customer need. 

According to Clayton Christensen, the innovation guru, and his consulting firm, Innosight, there are two types of innovation—each is important but they have different objectives:

Sustaining innovation occurs when organizations continue to improve their existing product or services to meet the emerging needs of their customers, especially the most demanding ones (e.g., continuous improvement).  All customers benefit by these improvements to existing products or services.  This type of innovation is a good strategy for market leaders to use to protect their positions.

Disruptive innovation occurs when organizations focus on removing barriers for non-customers in a way that satisfies a need better than anything existing today.  The focus is on adding new dimensions of performance that don’t exist in current offerings—ones that the customer values more than current measures of performance.  For example, cell phones, home pregnancy tests and the Wii video gaming system.  This type of innovation changes the way entire markets and industries operate and conduct business. 

In order to grow, organizations need to focus on both types of innovation.  They need to develop sustaining innovations in order to protect and expand their market positions; they need to develop disruptive innovations if they want explosive growth. 

Innovation is a strategic business process . . . it is sustainable and repeatable.

In my experience, most organizations do not have a common way to think about innovation, nor do they have a common innovation process.   This makes innovation more difficult, slower, more risky, and inconsistent—not things you want if your future success depends on it.  Like any other successful business function, innovation needs to be a rigorous process.   Without a common process and set of tools and techniques in place, it becomes difficult to make innovation a repeatable, sustainable process that everyone can practice.  Lack of a common process also gets in the way of creating a culture that encourages and perpetuates innovation.

Based on Christensen’s research of successful, innovative organizations, there is a proven, repeatable, best practice innovation process that works in the real world:

  • Spot opportunities:  Look for areas of customer (or non-customer) dissatisfaction with what exists today, where important jobs that customers cannot get done are causing frustration or workarounds.
  • Generate ideas:  Consider ways unsatisfied jobs might be fulfilled by analyzing the customer’s behavior, barriers, and underlying needs.
  • Shape solutions:  Create possible solutions to satisfy important dimensions of performance that the customer cares most about, without overshooting the customer’s needs.
  • Test and move forward:  Surface and verify underlying assumptions about the solution, testing and improving it through inexpensive, rapid prototyping process.
  • Implement:  Once you know you have a solution that satisfies customer needs, build commitment in the organization to implementing that solution.

There are a number of advantages to using this type of process—it can be applied to both sustaining innovation and disruptive innovation. It is the ultimate customer-centric approach, whether the customer is internal or external, because if targets a current unmet, important customer need, focuses on what the customer cares most about and targets a solution in a way that there is little current “competition.”  In addition, it reduces the risk of failure.  Also, it is incredibly actionable and can provide a clear change roadmap.

Clearly, this process can be applied to helping organizations offer new products and services to new and existing customers.  But, it goes beyond that.  This process can be applied to:

  • New business models:  Reaching out to existing and new customers in new ways.
  • Enabling technology:  Platforms and technology that allow different business units to produce products/services that solve customer needs.
  • Upgraded packaging:  How you package an existing product.
  • Internal processes: How you improve how things are done within the company.
  • Marketing approaches:  How you interact with your customers and influence purchases.

Check back next week for part two of our series on It’s Time to Grow Again…and Innovation is the Way and learn the innovation process in action and putting it all together.

Also, we’re hosting a free webinar series on innovation:

Five Sure Fire Ways You Can Drive Innovation
June 20, 2011 1pm EST
Register here>>

Simulation for Innovation: Creating a Competitive Advantage
July 19, 2011 1pm EST
Register here>>

Eight Ways to Create an Innovation-Capable Organization
August 30, 2011 1pm EST
Register here>>

About the Author:

Ron Porter

Ron Porter is a principal consultant at Linkage.  Ron has over 25 years of consulting and coaching experience working with senior executives, especially in the areas of strategy development/clarification/execution, organizational effectiveness, leadership alignment and development, change management and strategic communication.  He has a Bachelor of Science, Business Administration degree in Organizational Behavior from Villanova University and an MBA in Management from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

Originally published in the June 2010 edition of The Linkage Leader.

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